Queens College’s 95th annual commencement exercises took place on May 30, and the Campus Quadrangle was filled with smiling graduates and an audience of over 10,000, people.
“The degree Queens College awards you today attests not only to the education you have gained, but also to the effort you invested in your studies,” said CUNY chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez. “Your degree represents an important achievement in which you can, and should, take great pride.”
Aside from the conferring of degrees and cap throwing, the most exciting part of the ceremony came during the commencement speech, delivered by
Matthew Higgins, a Queens College graduate of 1998, established the Linda Higgins Empowerment Scholarship, named after his mother, a Queens College graduate who earned her degree while raising Higgins and three other boys in a small apartment on Springfield Boulevard.
He told the graduates how his mother was embarrassed about her lack of a personal education and worshipped everything about books, even so far as to plead with a mugger to leave her textbooks when she was being robbed. She kept the books, and she earned her degree.
This year’s two recipients of the Linda Higgins Empowerment Scholarship were aspiring CPA Rosanna Batista and new teacher Tameka Edwards-Hepburn. Both women pursued an education while raising children as single mothers.
"A weight lifted from my shoulders,"Battista said of the scholarship. “The award kept me positive and on the right track.”
After Higgins graduated, he worked as a reporter for the Queens Tribune before becoming Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s press secretary. He went on to become vice chairman of the Miami Dolphins and CEO of RSE Ventures, a private investment firm.
That role landed him a guest spot on the ABC reality show Shark Tank.
“I love how Shark Tank embodies this American notion that rejects the birthright,” Higgins said. “That anyone can start out at Queens College with a GED and you can go anywhere you want so long as you have the energy and the drive to do it.”
Higgins told the graduates to reject the internal dialogue that says “you don’t belong here.”
“The exact moment that we stretch beyond our limitations, on the brink of achieving our wildest dreams, we conjure an enemy, the voice of doubt that labels us an imposter,” he said. “Anyone who has ever achieved greatness, as I know you will, first has to slay that beast.”
In addition to the 3,000 degrees awarded, honorary degrees were awarded to Higgins, Dina Perry, a 26-year employee at Capital Group who has given back to the economics program, and Reri Grist, a soprano whose groundbreaking work at places like the Metropolitan Opera opened the door for other African-American singers.
Among the graduates was Marielli Martinez, a first-generation graduate and mother of four-month-old Alezandro.
“I’m excited, nervous, but I’m happy,” she said after receiving her bachelor’s degree in English. “It was rough, but I have my family so they made it easy.”
“I made my family proud, it feels great,” said 32-year-old Takia Johnson, who graduated with a degree in Sociology.